Born: November 18, 1915, Leigh, Dorset, England
Died: June 15, 2010, Vancouver, British Columbia
Education: Ph.D - Oxford University, 1948
Category: Basic Medicine
Dr. Charles Thomas Beer was born in Leigh, Dorset, England in 1915. Receiving his D. Phil. from Oxford University in 1948, his studies focused on organic chemistry. In 1951, he moved to North America, accepting research fellowships and positions at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York (1951- 1954), the University of Western Ontario (1954-55, 1957-60), McGill-Montreal General Hospital Research Institute (1955-56) and the University of British Columbia (1960-81). He has been a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of British Columbia since 1967 and is now Professor Emeritus at UBC and Honorary Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Cancer Endocrinology, British Columbia Cancer Agency.
Dr. Beer's major contribution to medicine was the isolation of the anti-cancer drug "vinblastine" at the University of Western Ontario in 1958. He worked closely with the late, Dr. Robert L. Noble to develop vinblastine from the leaves of the Madagascar periwinkle plant, Vinca Rosea. Vinblastine is one of the most useful chemotherapeutic agents available and its discovery and isolation is considered to be a milestone in the history of cancer chemotherapy, particularly for the management of Hodgkin's disease and testicular cancer.
Dr. Noble had been working with the periwinkle plant based on earlier suggestions that it might be useful in diabetes. Dr. Beer arrived in Dr. Noble's laboratory at UWO in September 1954 and his biochemical expertise led to the isolation and purification of vinblastine.
The process received a patent in the name of C.T. Beer, J.H. Cutts (a doctoral student co-worker) and R.L. Noble and was administered by the University in cooperation with the Eli Lilly Co. of Indianapolis. While Dr. Noble has received broad recognition for this important work, Dr. Beer's essential role in the vinblastine story has been largely overlooked. Dr. Beer's distinguished research and teaching career continued in the field of biochemistry with further work with vinblastine and related biochemical cancer research.
Read an online tribute to Dr. Beer from the Globe and Mail.
Dr. Beer and Dr. Robert Noble were jointly nominated and inducted into The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. View the video that was produced to honour them both at our 1997 Induction Ceremony.